I'm stuck with this example which I don't know how to solve:

A: I've said bad things to my mum.
B: If I were you, I'd apologise to your mum.

Is it supposed to be your or my instead?

My feeling tells me that your is right, but my sounds more logical.

  • 16
    It depends on whose mom you have offended.
    – Adsy
    Apr 11, 2014 at 10:56
  • 20
    Alternative: If I were you, I'd apologize to her.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 11, 2014 at 17:04
  • 1
    Whose mum is she? Apr 11, 2014 at 18:24
  • 2
    I'm with Mari-Lou here; I'd probably avoid the issue with If I were you, and I'd offended my mum, I'd apologize.
    – KutuluMike
    Apr 11, 2014 at 19:52
  • @ElliottFrisch Hillarious.
    – caelum19
    Apr 13, 2014 at 13:12

17 Answers 17


Both are fine. However, the first response is the most common way to answer. Very empathetic people might say my mum.

Turn the sentence around; would you say "I'd apologize to your mum if I were you" or "I'd apologize to my mum if I were you"? Probably the former.

If I were you, I'd... is a common way to give someone advice; it is not meant to be interpreted strictly grammatically.

  • 9
    Perhaps I'd apologise to your mum if I were you but I'd apologise to my mum if it were me or I'd apologise if it were my mum.
    – choster
    Apr 11, 2014 at 13:49
  • No support for the statement "the most common way to answer." Aug 11, 2017 at 0:23
  • @Clare - As a native English speaker, how exactly am I supposed to support this? My ear and my experience count. Aug 11, 2017 at 1:35

You offended your mom. So if I were you, I would apologize to your mom when she gets home.


You offended my mom. So if I were you, I would apologize to my mom when she gets home.

  • 10
    This answer doesn't address the "feels right" versus "logical" conflict in the question, it simply states your preference. The issue is that when I am you, your mom is mine.
    – nmclean
    Apr 11, 2014 at 17:50
  • 2
    @nmclean Well, I guess my mom will be happy to know that. ;-)
    – Elian
    Apr 11, 2014 at 17:59
  • I think this solves it perfectly! Apr 13, 2014 at 21:56

Over the years I've converted to the belief that what is important in language and grammar is that the communication is clearly understood and not unintentionally ambiguous, not that it satisfies any formal criterion. Whether you say your mum or my mum, no one is going to be confused by what you mean. So use whichever feels right to you.

The subtle distinction is if Bob knows Andy's mum and, for example, Andy's mum is the kind to hold a grudge and get revenge while Bob's mum is unusually forgiving and generous, well, Bob might be trying to convey that if Andy had said bad things to Bob's mum, he is better off forgetting about it, but having said bad things to Andy's mum, he better make amends to "your mum". If Bob does not know Andy's mum, and it is Bob's mum that is vengeful, he should probably say "my mum", but I would not lead in with "if I were you", I would instead say "If I had said bad things to my mum, I'd apologize quickly."

Compare to

Andy: I just spent $5 on the worst cup of coffee ever.

Bob: If I were you, I'd want my money back.

Seems totally wrong (or maybe just British) to me to say If I were you, I'd want your money back, but formally it is completely analogous to saying If I were you, I'd apologize to your mum.

On the other hand, I agree with keshlam that it is harder to get confused when you say "your mum" because if Bob were Andy, who's mother would be "your mum"? There's no "you" left in that situation, so there is only "my mom". "Your mum" must still refer to Andy's mum.

Also, saying "your mum" feels more empathetic and keeps the focus on Andy's mum rather than discussing how Bob would treat Bob's mum, so I would probably say "your mum" even though I would never say "your money". I (Bob) would say "my mum" only when referring my my (Bob's) mum, but if I meant that, meaning I was talking about how I would treat my mum if I had said bad things to her, I would not say "if I were you", I would say "if it were me..." or "if I were in your situation, I'd apologize to my mum". If I were you, I wouldn't have my mum, I'd have your mum. :-)

Back to the original dialog, "my mum" could mean either Andy's mum or Bob's mum, but in either case the message is the same: If I had said bad things to my mum, I would apologize to my mum. The idea that Andy should apologize to Bob's mum is so absurd that the statement If I were you, I'd apologize to my mum is not ambiguous in practice. No one would ever think that Bob is suggesting Andy get Bob's money back for the coffee, right?

Another way to think about it is what if the lead in had been:

Andy: I've said bad things to your mum.

Bob: If I were you, I'd apologise to my mum.

Again, it would be nonsense to think Bob is suggesting Andy apologize to Andy's mom. "My" has to continue to refer to "Bob". You have to look at the context of the sentence to understand it either way.

In the end, either way the message is clear. That's all that really matters.

  • 2
    With coffee money, there's no simple way of A getting B's money back, of course; but with mothers, it doesn't require much of a stretch to make my obviously refer to the ‘other’ mother: “I think I really put my foot in my mouth with your parents… I should go say sorry to your dad.” — “Nah, dad's laid back, he doesn't care. If I were you, I'd apologise to my mum instead, she's the touchy one.” Apr 13, 2014 at 13:34
  • ".. what is important in language and grammar is that the communication is not unintentionally ambiguous, not that it satisfies any formal criterion." - This is Grice's Maxim of manner - see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cooperative_principle#Maxim_of_Manner
    – Lior Kogan
    Apr 14, 2014 at 14:01
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I don't get your point. The OP's question is: after the phrase "If I were you" who is the "me" and "you" that "my" and "your" refer to? I say that for "mums" it is probably best understood that "my" continues to refer the person who said "if I were you" and "your" to the person addressed, and you seem to be saying the same thing as though it is different.
    – Old Pro
    Apr 15, 2014 at 1:29
  • I was just saying that it's not quite true that the idea that A should apologise to B’s mum is so absurd that the statement is necessarily unambiguous. Given the right context, it could be logical enough to become ambiguous. Apr 15, 2014 at 6:42
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I don't think it is ambiguous in your example either; it's absurd to think "my mum" in your example refers to A's mum.
    – Old Pro
    Apr 15, 2014 at 19:36

Formal correctness is the wrong test in this case. The problem is that the referent is ambiguous -- are we speaking from within the conditional, or from outside it?

"My mum" is interpreted differently in the two cases, since the meaning of "my" changes.

"Your mum" is clear no matter which case one chooses. Whether I am you or not, your mum remains your mum.

For that reason, the latter is to be preferred.


With "your mum" it is at least clear whose mum is being referred to - A's. In supposing B is A, it's not clear whether we are also supposing "B's mum" now refers to A's. But "your mum" can only refer to A's mum, since supposing B is A doesn't make A anyone else but A.

  • Actually, it's not entirely clear, with either option.
    – einpoklum
    Apr 11, 2014 at 13:41
  • Really? When B says "your mum" to A who else other than A's mum might he be referring to?
    – Neil W
    Apr 12, 2014 at 3:36
  • It could be "your mum" coming from the speaker as he is now, i.e. the listener's mother, or "your mum" coming from the speaker in when "I were you" holds, i.e. coming from the listener, i.e. the speaker's mother.
    – einpoklum
    Apr 12, 2014 at 6:40
  • 1
    @einpoklum: "You" really has no definition within the alternate reality that's just been constructed -- me being you doesn't automatically make you me. :) "You" might not even exist. So we're forced to go back to the real world for a definition.
    – cHao
    Apr 12, 2014 at 17:10
  • Hey, I just call it like I read it, if you need to argue to convince me ex-post-facto that it's not confusing, that doesn't really make your case :-(
    – einpoklum
    Apr 12, 2014 at 19:34

Definitely, "If I were you, I'd apologise to my mum."

The moment I put myself in your place, your mum is my mum. Any other way of thinking would imply that I'm not really you, which is what we are assuming at the start.

  • Totally agreed with this answer.
    – D_Bester
    Apr 12, 2014 at 14:40

If you were me, you'd answer your question thusly:

"My mom" is grammatically correct -- I ... my. As to which one is clearer to the listener, depends on the context. If there were possible ambiguity as to whether your mom or my mom potentially deserved an apology, "your" removes any such ambiguity.

Having had 2 parents with English PhDs, one an English professor, I'm somewhat inured to the value of the grammar police's opinions. I favor clarity over correctness always, and sometimes wrongness over sounding pretentious. The phrase "This is she," for example, has always smacked me as overly grammatical while simultaneously seeming no more technically correct than "This [person, the subject of this sentence] is her [the object, a deitic reference to the person you referred to in your question]."

But you digress.


You could just cop out and say 'If I were you I'd apologise'. Or you could say 'If it were me I would apologise to my mum'.

  • 5
    This is a workaround that works well; unfortunately, it does not answer the question.
    – Em1
    Apr 11, 2014 at 9:39
  • @Em1 Because there isn't really an answer to the question. The question reminds me a little of the famous one about a man standing on the bank of a river. He jumps in. Where was he when he jumped? On the bank? No, that was before he jumped. In the river? No that was after he jumped. In the air? No that was also after he jumped. So where was he? Not every question about use of language has an answer.
    – WS2
    Apr 11, 2014 at 10:02
  • 1
    Well,this question surely contains more a logical aspect rather than a language's. Consider:If I were you, my actual mum cannot be my mum any more(except we're siblings). So, referring to "my mum" would be incorrect. However, if I were you, your mum becomes my mum, because I am you. So, referring to "my mum" would be correct. – But still, there must be a way to handle that. Probably, differences exist between languages or cultures. So, the question asks for how it is usually handled by English speaker. If there's no answer because, for instance, BE handles it differently than AE then say that.
    – Em1
    Apr 11, 2014 at 11:03
  • 2
    @Em1 No, it centres around how language is actually used rather than whether it's used as logically as one might like. The key is whether the deictic 'your' is referring to the addressee's mum throughout, or whether it switches with the notional switch of personality. And since personality switch is impossible and therefore illogical anyway, the only way to decide on terminology is arbitrarily. Apr 11, 2014 at 15:48
  • @Em1 When you say 'there must be a way to handle that', remember you are dealing with language, which is an art form. It is not a science like mathematics, or physics which conform to logic and rationality. It is perhaps because we are so used to living in a scientific and technical age that the idea that there is no logical solution to a problem seems foreign to our daily experience. Sometimes with English there is no rational answer where you think there has to be one.
    – WS2
    Apr 11, 2014 at 19:25

"my" is correct. "your" conveys the message but could lead to ambiguity in some circumstances.

Imagine you have a custom that requires you to touch the tip of your nose while apologizing. Then what would you do? I would touch "my" nose and apologize to "my" mom.

Besides, if I were "you", there is no "you" any longer, and no "your" mom either. There is only "I", me and my.


"To your mum" is correct.

Because "I were You" doesn't mean "You were anyone else". You are still You but I am also you. And your mum is your mum still.

  • 5
    But if I am you, then your mum is my mum. Apr 11, 2014 at 11:04
  • @MattE.Эллен why not both? there could be a common mum to "you" and I""
    – user13107
    Aug 16, 2017 at 7:37

It's quite clear (and correct) as is.

Person A: I've said bad things to my mum.

Person B, speaking to Person A: If I were you, I'd apologise to your mum.

Meaning, "If I (B) were in your (A's) shoes, I (A) would apologize to your (A's) mum."


A: I've said bad things to my mum.

B: If I were you, I'd apologise to your mum.

For the sake of this explanation, I am "B" and you are "A".

You (A) have just told me (B) you've said bad things to your mum. Not my mother - your own mother.

So, when I reply to you, I'm talking about your mum (who you have offended), not my own mum (who is not offended). Therefore it's correct to say "your mum" to you, whose mother is offended. Because it's not "my mum" at all, it's yours.


Both work. The do slightly different things. If you use "my", you emphasize that you have specific standards that would make you do certain things.

If you use "your" you rather emphasize that the other person should engage in an action.


I know it's unusual and I'm not a native speaker but I think it would be a lot more logical to say: "If I were you, YOU'd apologise to your mum."

It would enable us to differentiate between my and your mum: "If I were you, you'd apologise to your mum." "If I were you, you'd apologise to my mum."


B: If I were you, I'd apologise to your mum.

If I were you, I'd apologize to her. To whom? To your mum duh!


If I were you, I'd apologize to your mom.

  • 1
    How does this answer the question? The Op recognizes that this might be the better version, but is unable to say why.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 17, 2014 at 20:55
  • It reads clearer. If talking about the other person's mom
    – edn13
    Apr 30, 2014 at 14:55

I think my is correct. You said:

If I were you, I'd apologise to your mum.

If I were you this means that if I was you or if I have have done what you have done.

According to both of these possible meanings I becomes person A

A: I've said bad things to my mum.

So now I is the person who committed mistake, so now I must say sorry to my mom.

  • @Mari-LouA Sir I was talking about possible meanings of that sentence. "become person A" its just an imagination. If I have done any mistake then kindly correct me.
    – Singh
    Apr 13, 2014 at 1:38
  • @Mari-LouA Sorry ma'am. I haven't seen your profile so by mistake I have written 'sir'. Thanks for correcting me. I would like to say to you that for a minute just look this problem, like it is not from English language but a problem from mathematical reasonings.
    – Singh
    Apr 13, 2014 at 6:14

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